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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 15:22 GMT 16:22 UK
Foreign influx prompts county fears
Greg Smith
South African Smith (l) has been a hit at Notts
BBC Sport Online's Thrasy Petropoulos looks at the increase in players from overseas entering the county game.

David Graveney is to urge counties to have a "full debate" on the merits of continuing the trend of signing overseas players who enter county cricket under a flag of convenience.

There is nothing new in cricketers born and bred overseas using a British passport or ancestry to qualify for England, or in the case of some - notably Graeme Hick - serving a qualification period.

But the alarming number of players born in South Africa and Australia currently on the county circuit has raised fears that home-grown youngsters are being denied opportunities.

And with European Union passport-holders legally entitled to work in England, the net has never been wider.

Graeme Hick
Hick served a qualification period
To be eligible, players must have the right passport or ancestry and must not have played for a first-class side abroad for one year, other than as an overseas player, and must not have represented another country at under-17 level or above in the four preceding years.

It would seem, however, that there is no end of applicants.

Already, Derbyshire have said that Andrew Gait, from Free State, will be playing for them next season, as will opening batsman Sven Koenig (Italian passport) for Middlesex.

Nic Pothas, Greek passport and like Koenig from Gauteng, has said that he is looking to bring his wicketkeeping and batting talents to English cricket and, if possible, England.

And Gerard Brophy, Free States's wicketkeeper and another Italian passport-holder, is currently on trial with, among others, Northamptonshire who possess probably the most talented young wicketkeeper in the country, 25-year-old Toby Bailey.

With word spreading of the opportunities, not to mention the lucrative pound salaries on offer in England, interest is growing.

Kevin Pietersen
Pietersen felt he had to leave South Africa to further his career
This season, the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Greg Smith, Mark Davis, Michael Lumb, Matt Prior, Chad Keegan, Billy Stelling, Neil Carter and Chris Bassano, all born and bred in South Africa or Australia, have played county cricket.

Most recently, Tim Ambrose, an 18-year-old wicketkeeper/batsman made a highly encouraging debut for Sussex and said afterwards that he was undecided where to commit his allegiance - with England or Australia, for whom he has played at under-19 level.

David Graveney, in his capacity as chief executive of the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA), has admitted that the issue needs immediate debate.

"It is a situation that needs to be fully discussed at the (PCA) AGM on 1 October because there is a growing trend towards signing players from overseas who are legally allowed to play for a county but who do not qualify for England," he said.

Do we see it as a way of strengthening county cricket and therefore raising the standard? Or is it denying a place for a young England prospect?
Bob Carter, Northamptonshire's director of cricket
"We have to decide whether that is good for the game in the long term. It is a decision to be made not just by the counties but by the players, too, who are also members.

"Personally, I am most concerned about protecting the most vulnerable cricketers, namely the youngest."

With Bailey, Graveney should have little to worry about.

Bob Carter, Northamptonshire's director of cricket, agrees that discussion is needed for counties to be advised how best to manage future recruitment.

"Do we see it as a way of strengthening county cricket and therefore raising the standard?" Carter asks. "Or is it denying a place for a young England prospect?

Greg Smith
Smith will not be the last South African at Notts
"There is no question about it as far as Bailey is concerned. He is our number one keeper and Brophy, if signed, would be no more than a back-up. We have two youngsters that we are putting though our Academy that we expect to be good enough but not yet.

"Besides, he is the first EU signing that we have looked at. I would like to think that counties will not start clogging up their sides with such players, mimicking football."

But with two-division cricket bringing increasing competition and England contracts taking many international players out of the county game, many counties will argue that they have no option but to look at all the players available to them.

Certainly Clive Rice, Nottinghamshire's head coach, is unrepentant about signing Pietersen and Smith, adding that he would "snap up" other South Africans of a similar standard if they qualify for English cricket.

All players wanting to qualify for England will be made to sign that they have severed all links with their former country
David Graveney
And in the case of Pietersen, who has passed 1,000 first-class runs for Notts this season at an exceptional rate of scoring, Rice might well have done England a favour.

As a 21-year-old, Pietersen found his way blocked at Kwa-Zulu Natal because of the quota system introduced by the United Cricket Board of South Africa.

From next season, all provinces must field three non-white players.

"A coloured spinner-batsman was in my place and I asked myself, 'Where can I go and play and, if I perform, go on and play international cricket.'," Pietersen said.


"England is the only place."

A four-year qualification period for the national side is, he insists, a small price to pay but many of the imports are realistically too old, or too average, to play above county level.

And words are cheap.

"All players wanting to qualify for England will be made to sign that they have severed all links with their former country," said Graveney.

"But the Andrew Symonds case a few years ago is still fresh in many of the PCA members' minds.

"Andrew is over here now playing quite legally as an overseas player for Kent, but there was a time when he said that he was as an Englishman in order to play as a non-overseas player for Gloucestershire.

"It still rankles with many of us."

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See also:

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03 Sep 01 |  Counties
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